Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Now that Harry’s story is truly over, I regret not joining in on the hype for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I saw it all over social media for months and months. At first, I was kind of confused when I saw announcements about a Harry Potter play, but I let the news fade into the background after I saw it was to be performed in the UK. I was excited for the script release, of course, but I didn’t feel the same anxiety I felt about The Raven King. In the last few days before the release, I was excited, but I didn’t go to a midnight release party, or watch any of Freeform’s Harry Potter movie weekend. I stayed up, listened to eight movies’ worth of soundtracks, and read the last 200 pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Since JKR announced this is to be the last of Harry’s story, I’m sad I missed out on the global excitement for the release of the last chapter.

However, I did get my copy on July 31, 2016 (Happy 36th Birthday, Harry!!), and I finished it that same day all in one sitting. My review will be as spoiler-free as possible, but I will have to reveal the major plot premise, so if you haven’t read it and want to go in totally blind, don’t read my review. If you haven’t read Harry Potter at all, please do. It’s truly a defining story for our time and our culture.

Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars

harry potter8 Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

I had incredibly mixed feelings on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. On one hand, its mere existence is delightful. The continuation of Harry’s story on the stage, with Harry, Hermione, Ron, and company grown up is a tribute to the huge impact Harry Potter had on my generation as we’ve grown up. Now that most of us are adults or entering adulthood, it’s nice to see our childhood heroes growing up alongside us. However, the execution of such a tribute in a way that honors the original without cheapening it is extremely difficult (think about the Star Wars Prequels, if you need an example), and I think readers more critical than I could make a strong case that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was not done well, at least in the form of a published script.

While some fans would rather have seen a novelization of the play than the actual script, I was not at all bothered by the format. In fact, I enjoyed reading it as a script, since I will not have the chance to actually see the play. In my view, the story and characters did not suffer from their formatting. Having said this, I have no idea how this script could be performed on a stage. There is so much magic, and so many settings and moving pieces that I couldn’t even begin to envision how such a play would be staged. Reading the script definitely made me want to see the play live. I hope it comes to America!

Additionally, the characters were true to themselves, with a few very notable exceptions. Hermione was pretty much spot-on, and her role in this story reminded me why she is my role model and my favorite character. Ginny’s characterization was good as well- she became wiser, but her wry humor broke the tension in lots of uncomfortable moments. I thought Ron was made a little too goofy, more like the twins than himself, but he was enjoyable and provided much-needed comic relief.  I was really sad to not actually see Neville, Luna, Teddy Lupin, or any of the other Weasleys. Professor McGonagall was great, if a little weak in some moments, and two other important teachers made cameo appearances and both redeemed themselves for past misdeeds admirably! Harry himself was well-characterized around the other adults, but I didn’t agree with how he as a father was portrayed. He made some really, really egregious errors that I felt were out-of-character, and forced to create plot drama. His son Albus was my least favorite character in the entire play. I didn’t think his character and backstory adequately justified some of the stupid, rebellious choices he made, and I really didn’t understand his resentment of Harry. Hermione and Ron’s daughter Rose was entertaining, but a bit of prat, honestly. She also had little plot value.

By far the greatest of the classic characters  was Draco Malfoy. Draco had significant page time, as a friend, parent, and husband. In my view, one of the greatest strengths of Cursed Child is its portrayal of Draco Malfoy, which explains Draco well without excusing his childhood misdeeds. He is precious as husband and father. His son Scorpius is also adorable, and more in the vein of a traditional Harry Potter hero than Albus is. He’s geeky, awkward, and completely loyal. The addition of Scorpius and brilliance of Draco make the awkwardness of Harry and Albus’s relationship (which suffers from an overzealous writer’s desire for conflict) much easier to swallow.

The plot is really where Cursed Child loses a lot of its credibility. The basic premise involves Albus and Scorpius attempting to use illicit Time-Turners to save Cedric Diggory. While Cedric Diggory was hugely important to Harry in the original series, I found the link between Amos Diggory (who starts everything) and the boys very tenuous. They do travel to some interesting alternate realities, but along the way there are a few moments where the resetting of time lines doesn’t work as I thought it should, and I was a bit confused. It’s certainly very exciting to read, but the logic of the plot becomes very complicated very, very quickly (it’s not solely about time travel, and juggling the other aspects gets confusing). I’d also like to see how those complications translate to the stage, and how a viewing audience understands events, particularly because most people who see the play see Part I and Part II on different days. This plot line, while it dealt with the life and death of the Wizarding World as we know it, somehow didn’t feel as serious as Harry’s yearly battle with Voldemort and the hunt for Horcruxes did in the originals.

The inability to really take the story seriously pointed me to my biggest issue with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It doesn’t feel like canon, but instead like a well-written-entertaining but silly- fan fiction. Don’t get me wrong- I loved reading this. I think everyone who loves Harry Potter should read this, and I am jealous of those who will get to see it staged with the original cast and crew. However, it definitely doesn’t feel like it was written by JK Rowling (which at least the story was). There was a lot of fan service, I think, for those who are still active in creating their own Harry Potter content. There were moments for those who ship Drarry, Dramione, Romione, Hinny, Scorose, and many of the other famous pairings that weren’t well-integrated into the overall story (though I enjoyed them). Also, time-travel is a kind of ridiculous plot trope (in my view) more in line with the fun AUs fanfics often deal with. I was expecting a fresher, more character-driven plot line. Pieces of Cursed Child felt like bizarre tumblr prompts.

I say none of this to in any way demean the fandom. I LOVE the Harry Potter fandom. I think it’s incredible that JK Rowling created a world we can all inhabit years after our favorite characters have left. The art and writing generated by the fandom is often incredible as well. The fact that Cursed Child looks so much like fan fiction is an achievement in terms of the effects of fandom on literature. It signals a  fascinating change in how the author/reader relationship works. I’m still a little old-fashioned, I think, in wanting new content to change how the fandom considers the world. I wanted more depth and complications, not confirmation of all the fan theories I’ve read.

To sum up, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is tremendous as a contribution to the wide, wonderful world of the Harry Potter fandom, but weak as the last chapter of canon. I will reread it and enjoy it, even if I don’t consider it rock-solid canon. I’m also looking forward to seeing how Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will fit into the tangle of the Wizarding World.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Has anyone else read this yet? Please comment and tell me what you thought of it and my review! I’d love to discuss. If you want to read more from me, check out my personal blog.

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